Feb 192012
Authors: Cris Tiller

On a Saturday evening 8,745 orange-clad fans piled into a small gym at the heart of town and cheered on 13 young men.

They were raucous, even at times deafening. Despite the team trailing for most of the game, they were persistent, obnoxious and undoubtedly critical to a close victory.

If you wandered in on this sight you might have thought it was a tradition, a pride for a group of athletes who represent a community. Unfortunately you would be wrong — it was closer to rare than it was to routine.

Moby Arena was alive with energy and passion when CSU took on Wyoming Saturday, but that environment has existed too infrequently in the Rams’ history.

Saturday was the only sellout of the men’s basketball season and one of the few times all year the crowd was a clear factor in the game’s result. It’s pathetic, really, because Moby has the potential to be a premier venue in the Mountain West, if not all, of college basketball.

“When Moby is packed and it’s rockin’ like that, it’s one of the hardest places to play, especially in the conference,” Saturday’s hero Greg Smith said. “It’s as loud as anywhere we go.”

The most passionate fans around the country, the Cameron Crazies of Duke, the Jayhawks of Kansas and even those Lobos of New Mexico’s Pit take pride in being bothersome pests. They wear it as a badge of honor — proof that common people can and do help affect the outcomes of games.

So why is it that Rams’ fans have such a hard time coming out and supporting their team, no matter the opponent?

I grow tired of the “if the team was better, I would go to more games,” argument. Consider that the better teams have the better players, and a way to lure more talented players to your school is by creating an environment that’s attractive to play in.

New Mexico, within our conference, doesn’t have any more to offer as a school, but it routinely gets commitments from high-caliber players. The Lobos produce consistent NCAA Tournament teams and frequent the top-25 polls. The connection is New Mexico holds a national reputation for a rabid fan base that creates an intimidating setting.

That’s where CSU gets beat. Its fans are apathetic at times and seem to care about its teams only after they find success.

I’m sorry, but no big-time prep basketball player is going to look at an average attendance of a few thousand people and come clambering to spend four years of his life there. A school doesn’t morph its culture overnight, but dedicating yourself to change is a step in the right direction.

I’ve seen the potential Moby holds and so do the players. Coach Tim Miles and his team have credited the crowd on several occasions, including big wins over CU-Boulder, San Diego State and Wyoming.

“Everybody talks about the Pit, they talk about Vegas being loud. Moby is one of the louder gyms and when they’re rockin’,” Smith said. “ … we really do get something out of it. It brings our games up another level.”

The numbers prove it. CSU is 12-1 within the friendly confines of Moby this season, compared to 2-8 on the road. The Rams’ offense scores 83 points per game at Moby to just 74 on the road. They feed off the energy and no better example exists than Saturday night.

CSU trailed Wyoming for 33 of the 40 minutes and didn’t obtain its first lead until 23 minutes into the second half. The crowd kept the Rams upbeat and when the moment presented itself, they surged forward on a 16-6 run, never falling behind again.

So let’s make a vow to change the culture of sports here at CSU. Instead of being reactionary fans who follow wins, let’s get out in front and will our athletic programs to success. Let’s show them we are all in, and I am willing to bet they’ll go all in for us.

Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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